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Authoritarian Parenting Theory

The research question for this essay is ‘How does authoritarian parenting impact children and adolescents in relation to their social skills.’ The aim of this essay was to explore whether the authoritarian style of parenting enhances or undermines children and adolescent’s social skills and how effective it is compared with other styles or parenting. In addition the essay will explore the different definitions of authoritarian parenting and social skill. The ways in which social skills are measured were also explored. Studies from different psychologist were used to evaluate whether authoritarian parenting enhances or undermines children’s and adolescents’ social skills. Permissive parenting and authoritative parenting were also evaluated using different studies. The findings and conclusions from these studies were compared with the findings and conclusions made from the studies on authoritarian parenting. It was concluded that authoritarian parenting undermines a child’s and adolescent’s social skills and therefore is a less effective parenting style in this aspect compared to permissive and authoritative parenting.



This essay will be investigating the impacts that authoritarian parenting has on children and adolescents in relation to their social skills. It is preserved that there are four important components to parenting. These are thought to be: disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturance, communication styles and expectations of maturity and control. Psychologist Diana Baumrind (1967) suggested based on these four components of parenting that there are three main parenting styles that parents can fall under. These styles are authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Later in 1983 Maccoby and Martin carried out further research in this area and suggested a fourth style, this they believed was uninvolved. In this essay the authoritarian style of parenting will be analysed on the impacts that it has on the social skills of children and adolescents who are brought up under this style. The style of authoritarian parenting was chosen as it is believed to be the most extreme in terms of the parents’ coldness and strictness. Sociableness and social skills were chosen as the behaviour to be examined as I believe that it is the bases of most of the other behaviours that children have, for example their performance in school.

In this essay children are defined as humans that are between the age of birth and puberty [1] . Whereas adolescents are defined as humans that are between the age of 13 and 19, the difference between children and adolescents are that an adolescent is above the age of maturity. Adolescence is when their brain is transitioning between puberty and legal adulthood. [2] 

The topic of child development and the impact and affect of the style in which parents are bringing up their children are of great importance and significance. I believe this is because parents strive to bring up their children and adolescents in the best way possible so that they can get the most out of life and be fulfilled. Therefore the research that is being conducted is critical to both psychologists so that they are able to understand the way in which children develop in relation to their upbringing and their environments. In addition it is also critical information for parents so that they are able to understand the most effective way to bring up their children. The topic is modern as a lot of the research has been taking place in the last two or three decades.

What is Authoritarian Parenting?

Many psychologists have different definitions of what they believe authoritarian parenting to be. A variety of these will be explored in this section, a conclusion will be made on which of these definitions is the most practical. This will be the one which will be used throughout assuming that all the psychologists carrying out the studies are using this experiment.

Diana Baumrind (1991) who first proposed the parenting styles describes authoritarian parenting as “obedience – and status orientated and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” [3] Baumrind also suggested that this style of parenting causes children and adolescents to be relatively well-behaved, less resourceful, less socially adept and the children are more likely to suffer from emotional problems in their teenage and adult years. The main strength of this definition is that it clearly states the impacts which authoritarian parenting has on the children brought up under this style. Although, a limitation is that is does not have a description of the parents behaviours towards the child, they way the act towards them and treat their children.

Another common definition of authoritarian parenting is parents who “believe in holding their children high level of achievement and status. The desire for discipline is often dominant in this relationship, that the relationship itself is devoid or low in love, affection and nurturing.”(Bradley) [4] A limitation to this definition is that it does not go into great detail about the impact that authoritarian parenting has on the child’s behaviour and feelings.

A third definition that is used, defines authoritarian parenting as a “parenting style [that] is high in structural boundaries and somewhat strict military in its execution. Their responsiveness to their children is usually low to very low. Rules are laid down and must be followed and in some cases, punishment metered out would be seen in today’s society as extremely and unnecessarily heavy-handed. Discipline provides the core base to this style of parenting.”(Caporella) [5] A main strength of this definition is that the definition goes into detail about the parent’s behaviour towards the children. However, like the above it does not state the impacts and implications of taking on this parenting style.

The last definition defines authoritarian parenting as parents who are highly demanding of their children and are directive, but unresponsive. If their children are unable to follow the rules that they have set, they will be punished heavily, (Berger 2001). [6] Parents who assume this style do not engage in discussions with their children about the rules and standards that have been set for them. The child has to obey the rules without question. Like most of the other definitions that have been explored previously, this one also does not go into detail about the impacts and what the children that are brought up under this style of parenting. However, it does explain the beliefs that the parents have about bringing up a child.

The definition that will be used for this essay, is Baumrind’s definition (obedience – and status orientated and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation) and the belief that authoritarian parenting causes children and adolescents to be relatively well-behaved, less resourceful, less socially adept and children brought up under this style are more likely to suffer emotional problems in their teenage and adult years. This definition of authoritarian parenting was chosen as Baumrind was the first to propose the idea of parenting styles and most psychologists use this definition as their base. Also her beliefs on the impacts that authoritarian parenting has on children and adolescents can be used as a hypothesis and therefore, when exploring the different studies and experiments on the sociableness of the children we can analyse whether they reflect and help to provide support to Baumrind’s theory or do they weaken her theory. In addition this is also the better of the definitions as it focuses on the impacts which the parenting style has on the children and adolescents, whereas the others focus on the behaviours of the parents and the attitudes towards their children, this is not important as the essay is focusing on the impacts the parenting style.

What are social skills (sociableness) and how is it measured?

Psychologists have different opinions of what they believe to be social skills and sociableness and what they do not. In addition there are also different ways in which they can measure one’s social skills and sociableness and why this is so. Therefore it is important that we explore the different definitions and the ways in which social skills are measured. This is so that a conclusion can be drawn on the definition of social skills which will be used; it will be assumed that this is the one that the psychologists use in the studies explored. Furthermore, this can also be the case for the ways in which social skills are measured in psychology.

Social skills can be defined as skills that enable a person to interact and communicate with others. Social skills are closely associated with Emotional Intelligence – a kind of intelligence that involves the ability to perceive, assess and positively influence one’s own or other people’s emotions. What counts as being socially skilled varies from culture to culture, this is due to the different beliefs that different cultures have and what they believe to be socially acceptable. Some of the attributes or skills that can be generally included are: the ability to remain appropriately calm in social situations, active listening skills, feeling empathy for others and expressing interest in them, understanding building skills, an appropriate degree of self discourse and appropriate eye contact. (Elliot) [7] 

Social skills can also be defined as any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules are created, communicated and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialisation. [8] 

One’s social skills are hard to be measured as what is seen as a social skill changes from culture to culture and person to person. Therefore each psychologist may have their own opinion on what they believe to be social skills. How social a child and adolescent is, is usually measured by questionnaires that are given to parents and (in most of the studies in this essay), as well as their teachers, researchers also carry out interviews on the child’s parents and their teachers. Some of these questionnaires ask the parents and teachers to rate their social skills on a scale of ten. These questionnaires may also ask questions on how the children act when they are put into different situations with other children. From these answers the psychologist then make their conclusions about how social the child is. This is very subjective as different psychologists make different conclusions from the answers that were given on the questionnaires. Therefore if another psychologist was to replicate another psychologists study, they may interpret the answers that were given in different ways and therefore they would come out with different results and thus their conclusions would not be equivalent to the study being replicated. As a result of this, when looking at the studies presented, it needs to be kept in mind the way in which they go about collecting their information and if they have undertaken questionnaires, we can gather that their can be study may not be reliable when looking at it alone. Instead its conclusions need to be looked at with reference to other studies. If the additional studies have the same or similar conclusions and findings then the study can be seen as reliable and their findings have external validity.

How does authoritarian parenting impact social skills?

Authoritarian parenting impacts the children; this can be in either a negative or positive way depending on the factor which is being explored. The social skills of the children and adolescents brought up under this certain parenting style will be explored, using a range of studies carried out by various psychologists.

The first study that will be analysed was carried out by Lamborn et al in 1992. The study took place in the United States of America on a group of teenagers. Their findings showed that the teens that came from an authoritarian background were less likely to feel socially accepted by their peers. Also in addition they were rated less self-reliant, compared to the other teens that came from different parenting backgrounds. Lamborn et al’s study helps support Baumrind’s theory that children from authoritarian families are less socially adept. However because this experiment was conducted in the United States, it can not be generalised to all children from authoritarian families, as it did not explore different cultures, as all the participants were American, and therefore for these reasons the study does not have external validity.

Another similar study has been conducted by Chen et al in 1997. Their study was taken out in China, with second graders aged 8 years old and their parents in Beijing. The researchers gathered information from the participants’ teachers on how social each of the participants was. This was done by the teachers completing a rating scale on school-related social competence and problems for each of the children. Data needed for child-rearing practices was acquired from the parents. From this information they concluded that children from authoritarian parents are less socially competent and are also less likely to be aggressive and less likely to be accepted by their peers. Although this experiment was only done on children from China, when it is compared with the earlier study (stated above) carried out by Lamborn et al on American children it is more reliable, this is the case as both of the experiments come to the same conclusions that children from authoritarian families are less socially adept and competent, therefore they can not be seen as anomalies and they both support each other. In addition they are externally valid as the two studies were taken out in two different countries on two different cultures and both came to the same conclusion. Although, some will argue that it has only been carried out on two cultures and for it to become externally valid it would need more than two studies. However, these two cultures are very contrasting in their more individualist and collectivist natures and therefore if these two opposites have the same findings then it is more likely that other cultures that are of similar natures would also come to the same conclusions. Moreover, from this we can take that these findings would be the same for different cultures and therefore the findings are externally valid.

Other studies similar to the two mentioned above have been carried out by other researchers in different parts of the world, therefore Baumrind’s theory that children from authoritarian parents are less socially adept can be generalised to all cultures. Some of the various other studies were conducted by Turkel and Tzer in 2008 in Turkey on high school students; another was done by Martinez et al in 2007 in South America and Spain, while a further study was carried out by Dekovic and Jannsens in 1992 and 1997 in the Netherlands. In addition another was conducted by Steinberg in 1996 on teenagers. These several studies concluded similar things that children from authoritarian are rated less resourceful, have low social competence, less mature in reasoning about moral issues, less self-reliant and have lower self esteems compared to other children from the different parenting styles.

From the information that has been gathered from the studies, it can be seen that authoritarian parenting does impact children’s and adolescent’s social skills, if they were to be brought up under this style of parenting. In addition it is also seen that authoritarian undermines rather than enhances the children’s and adolescents’ social skills and abilities.

How does authoritarian parenting compare with permissive parenting and other styles?

It is important that authoritarian parenting is not looked at on its own, but compared with the other parenting styles that parents use. The main parenting style which authoritarian parenting will be compared with is permissive parenting. This is as permissive parents are the opposite of authoritarian parents. In addition authoritative parenting will also be compared with authoritarian parenting; this is because authoritative parenting is believed to be the best style as it positively impacts the children and adolescents brought up under the style.

Permissive parenting is defined by Baumrind (1991) as “non-traditional and lenient, do not require mature behaviour, allow considerable self-regulation and avoid confrontation.” [9] Baumrind believes that children whom are brought up in permissive homes are believed to be more likely to participate in self destructive behaviours and have a high self esteem and enhanced social skills.

Martinez, Garcia and Yubero (2007) carried out a study on 1 239 Brazilian adolescents aged 11 to 15 years old, with 54% being female, and the other 46% male. The participants were classified into the four different parenting styles (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved) based on their answers to a Parental Socialisation Scale. The participants then had to complete the Multidimensional Self Esteem Scale (they had to rate themselves of their confidence and behaviours in different scenarios). The results showed that adolescents from permissive homes scored higher or equal to those in authoritative homes and higher than those from authoritarian or uninvolved homes. From this the researchers concluded that as adolescents from permissive parents have the best self esteem, they would therefore be more socially adept and have better social skill then other adolescents from the different parenting styles especially those from authoritarian families. The reason for this being that self-esteem is believed to have a connection with one’s social skills. Therefore if one’s self esteem is higher than they are more likely to have enhanced social skills.

A study was conducted by Lamborn et al (1990) on 4 100 adolescents aged 14 to 18 years old. Adolescents were put into four groups (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved). These groups were determined by the adolescents’ ratings on their parents in two areas: acceptance/involvement and firm control. The participants were then observed by the researchers and surveys filled out by teachers and people close to them. Lamborn et al found that adolescents from permissive homes had a very strong self confidence and were more socially adept than those from authoritarian homes.

However, this study can be seen as unreliable as the adolescents were but into the four categories according to the adolescents themselves. There is unreliability, as the adolescents may not be honest with the information that they give about their parents, they may have over exaggerated their parents behaviours or underrated the behaviours. Therefore the adolescents may not have been put into the right category and so consequently the results are not accurate.

Thus, when we look at the studies on permissive parenting and its effects on social skills, we can see that this parenting style enhances children’s and adolescents’ social skills and their self-esteem which can influences one’s social skills.

The second parenting style that I will now look at is authoritative parenting. Studies on the effects of authoritative parenting on children and adolescents’ social skills, will be analysed.

Baumrind (1991) defines authoritative parents as parents who take a different, more moderate approach to parenting that emphasises setting high standards, they are nurturing and responsive, and show respect to their children as independent, rational beings. An authoritative parent expects maturity and co-operation; they also offer their children plenty of emotional support. Baumrind (1991) suggested that authoritative parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.” Maccoby and Martin (1993) have said “authoritative parents are both highly responsive and very demanding”. Children which are brought up with authoritative parents are believed to be more socially and emotionally competent than other children which are brought up with parents that use different styles.

Dekovic and Janssens (1992) carried out a study in the Netherlands on school children. They observed the children while they were interacting with their parents while carrying out puzzle tasks. Dekovic and Janssens recorded three main aspects. The first being the number of times and how often the parents uttered their disapproval towards their children or when they tried to take over the task. The second was how often the parents should warmth towards their child during the tasks, made suggestions, used instructions and demanded mature behaviour. The third and last the child’s social behaviour, this information was gathered by asking teachers and peers. The researchers found that the children that belonged to the parents who behaved more authoritatively during the tasks were rated as more prosocial. The findings and conclusion drawn from Dekovic and Janssens study help to support and strengthen Baumrind’s definition and theory on the impact which authoritative parents have on their children’s social skills and competence.

Which is more effective?

By using the information that has been given by the studies that have been analysed in the pervious sections it can be seen just how effective authoritarian parenting and other parenting styles are in enhancing their children’s or adolescents’ social skills.

From the analysis of the studies and also the definitions that were given by Baumrind, for permissive, authoritative and authoritarian parenting it can be seen just how effective each is in enhancing children’s and adolescents’ social skills.

The studies carried out by researchers such as Lamborn et al (1992), Chen et al (1997), along with others in different parts of the world, have found and concluded that the children and adolescents that come from authoritarian parents are less resourceful, less mature, have a low self-esteem and are less socially adept. In addition Baumrind’s theory on the children and adolescents which are brought up under the authoritarian style are less resourceful and socially adept. Therefore the studies carried out by the above researchers are in line with Baumrind’s theory. This information therefore strengthens the theory, as the studies have not just been carried out in one culture but in many throughout the world, in Asia, Europe and the United States of America.

However, the studies that have been carried out by researchers such as Martinez, Garcia and Yubero (2007) and Lamborn et al (1990) on permissive parents and their children have found and concluded that children and adolescents that come from this parenting style have a high self-esteem and social skills, and have a high self confidence and are socially adept. Baumrind believed that children and adolescents brought up with permissive parents have a high self esteem and have enhanced social skills. Furthermore, the studies therefore support and strengthen Baumrind’s theory, as they have found the concluded the same as her, and not only in one culture but in many different cultures.

It has also been concluded by researchers such as Dekovic and Janssens (1992) that children and adolescents that come from authoritative parents are more social and have great social skills these skills can include their ability to listen to others around them, their ability to keep calm in different social situations, appropriate discourse and eye contact with others, expressing interest in others and their ability to feel empathy for others. Baumrind’s theory on the social skills of children and adolescents from authoritative parents states that they are found to be more socially and emotionally competent than children that are brought up under different parenting styles.


In conclusion, it can be seen from the studies that have been provided and analysed throughout the essay, and in addition with the conclusions that have been made in the previous section on authoritarian parenting (undermines a child’s and adolescent’s social skills), permissive and authoritative parenting (enhances a child’s and adolescent’s social skills). Therefore in comparison to these parenting styles authoritarian is less effective in developing a child’s and adolescent’s social skills. The impacts of this can be negative; it can have a negative impact on their school life and even their school performance as they are unable to communicate effectively with others around them. In addition, it has been shown that children brought up under the authoritarian parenting style are more likely to develop emotional problems in their adult lives. This was found in a study carried out by Rothrauff et al in 2009. The researchers surveyed middle aged Americans. They found that the ones that remembered authoritarian childhoods were more likely to show depressive symptoms and poor psychological adjustment. The findings of this study were found to be true for all ethnic groups, especially in European Americans. A reason for authoritarian children developing depressive symptoms in their later lives could be a consequence of their lack of social skills, as they may have not found it easy to make friends and therefore have been left feeling lonely. It can therefore be seen that when a parent is considering which parenting style which they should develop in bringing up their child, therefore should be aware of the fact that if they are to take on an authoritarian style that their child will not develop many social skills. However, this is not the only aspect that a parent should consider when consider the parenting style which they will take the role of. Parents should also consider how the parenting style affects the child’s academic performance at school, child’s behaviour whether they develop more aggressive and destructive behaviours or are well behaved.

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